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There Is No Horsing Around for Lakers as They Win 9th Straight

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

For about 15 minutes every practice, Magic Johnson, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper play a game within a game.

Three-point H-O-R-S-E, they call it, in which they match shots from the twilight zone and beyond.

“I win all the time,” Cooper said, then laughed. “Except when we play for money.”

They were playing for keeps Sunday night at the Forum, only this time Cooper wasn’t dropping long-range bombs on his teammates but on the Milwaukee Bucks.

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With Johnson, Scott and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter, Cooper zeroed in to score 13 points in the period and a season-high 20 points in the Lakers’ 127-117 win over Milwaukee, their ninth straight win after an opening-day loss to Houston.

Cooper was the hottest hand coming off the Laker bench, which shot a sizzling 19 of 25 (76%) against the Bucks.

Milwaukee, winner of seven straight division titles and a tough, physical defensive team, figured to pose the first serious challenge the Lakers have faced since their first-game loss to Houston.

And even though the newest Buck, longtime Seattle center Jack Sikma, picked up two quick fouls in the opening minutes, Milwaukee led by as many as 10 in the first half, and were ahead, 65-58, at the break.

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While guard Rickey Pierce, an ex-Clipper, darted through the Laker defense for 18 first-half points, Milwaukee pounded the Lakers on the boards, holding a 20-11 advantage at the half. The Lakers had two offensive rebounds in the game’s first 24 minutes.

That all changed in the second half. Pierce scored four points the rest of the way, Kurt Rambis and guard Byron Scott, of all people, gave the Lakers control of the boards in the third quarter, in which they took an 88-85 lead.

The Lakers also took advantage of Milwaukee foul trouble, making all 12 of their free throws in the period while the Bucks missed both of theirs. Sikma, who never was a factor (6 points and 5 rebounds), and Terry Cummings both picked up their fifth fouls early in the final period.

That’s when the Lakers--and especially Cooper--busted the game wide open, embarking on a 11-4 burst to make it, 99-89, before Abdul-Jabbar and Magic returned to the game.

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Wes Matthews started the run with a three-pointer, James Worthy hit a jumper, and Cooper followed with another three-pointer.

“Besides the offensive rebound, it’s one of the most debilitating plays in the game,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said.

“It shocks you--it has a shock value to it.”

It was only four seasons ago that the Lakers missed 42 straight three-point attempts. This season, Cooper--who made two of three attempts Sunday--is making nearly 54% of his attempts (14 of 26), while Scott--who missed two Sunday--is shooting even better (10 for 17, 58.9%).

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It may all be due to three-point H-O-R-S-E.

“It builds up your confidence, especially when there’s $5 on the line,” Cooper said. “I’ve been down as much as $85 or $90. That really helps your perimeter shooting.

“And that’s something we have to go to. In the past, we relied so much on our inside game, which put a lot of pressure on Kareem.”

Everyone knows Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook is a high percentage shot? How about Cooper’s three-pointers?

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“For me, right now, yeah,” he said with a laugh.

Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson, whose team had won three straight and four of its last five, was denied the 500th win of his coaching career. The Bucks have lost eight of their last nine meetings in the Forum.

“Cooper killed our extended defense,” Nelson said. “He must have made five shots in a row.”

Johnson, who made 13 of 14 free throws, led the Lakers with 23 points, while Abdul-Jabbar had 21, 10 in the first quarter.

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“I think when Houston beat them last year there was a tendency to say the Lakers had lost a step,” Sikma said. “But they’ve gotten off to a great start this year and they’ve still got an outstanding team. It’s going to take a great team to beat them this year.”


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